For whatever reason, I am having a hard time writing about this book, which is odd because I found it very enjoyable. The Queen’s Fool covers an era of history that seems to be untouched by many writers covering the Tudor family–the period of rule between Henry VIII’s death and the rise of his daughter, Elizabeth I, to the throne. The novel follows Hannah Green, a young Jewish girl with the gift of seeing the future, who is an interesting character.
She and her father have escaped Spain and the Inquisition by posing as a Catholic book-printer and his boy apprentice. As such they are spared the fate of Hannah’s mother, burnt at the stake as a heretic. The journey to England, and their subsequent residence in England, have forced Hannah to maintain her disguise as a boy. The freedom of being a man appeals to Hannah, and her dreams follow a more modern pattern of wishing to be a single woman who makes her own way in the world. She and her talents for foresight are discovered by Robert Dudley and John Dee, who petition her as a holy fool to King Edward. Hannah is put in an unlikely role of confidant to not only Robert Dudley, but also Queen Mary, during and after her ascent to power, and to the Lady Elizabeth. as she struggles for the throne against her sister. By following the story of Hannah Green, Gregory is able to cover each of the three monarchs following Henry VIII’s reign with an intimacy that would otherwise require three or more points of view.
Phillipa Gregory is exceptionally talented at weaving historical fact into the framework of a story. It is obvious to the reader that Gregory has thoroughly researched the Tudors, but unlike other historical fiction writers who sometimes shower their novels with fact after fact, as if to prove they have done the research, Gregory presents her facts as colorfully and with as much heart as she does the fictional aspects of her novel. She essentially uses history to paint a believable fiction. For example, in The Other Boleyn Girl, it is apparent in how Gregory develops the brother/sister relationships between the Boleyn siblings what she hypothesizes about the charges brought against Anne Boleyn, her brother George, and their friends–namely incest, homosexual relationships, and adultery.
Likewise in The Queen’s Fool, Gregory uses her knowledge of the historical facts to shape Hannah’s observations of Queen Mary and the Lady Elizabeth, particularly as they relate to the relationships between Prince Phillip and Mary, Prince Phillip and Elizabeth, and Queen Mary and Elizabeth. I am especially fond of Gregory’s descriptions of Elizabeth and her demeanor. To me Queen Elizabeth I has always been both enigmatic and captivating, Gregory seems to believe likewise, but throw in powerfully intelligent, shrewd, and aware of her power as a woman. I completely fell in love with Lady Elizabeth’s character, much like Hannah became enamored with the future queen.
Finally, I appreciate how Gregory wrote Hannah’s visions of the future. My favorite piece of foretelling occurs when she scries for John Dee about the future of Queen Mary, Elizabeth, and Robert Dudley. She says “There will be a child, but no child. There will be a king, but no king. There will be a virgin queen all-forgotten. There will be a queen, but no virgin” and Robert Dudley “will have the making of a prince who will change the history of the world” and “will die in his bed, beloved by a queen”. Although in riddle form, it perfectly describes Queen Mary’s two phantom pregnancies, King Phillip’s limited time as King of England, Queen Mary forgotten as a queen but remembered as a “Blood Mary”, the rise to power of Queen Elizabeth the Virgin Queen (who by many accounts was quite the opposite), and the rise of Robert Dudley from the Tower of London to Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor and likely lover.
Although The Queen’s Fool is not my favorite of Gregory’s Tudor books, it still sparkles with her usual love of the Tudor history and fantastic story-telling.